Any self-respecting Spokanite knows the bullet points on the city’s basketball resume.
There’s John Stockton, who was a local legend at Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University before he became one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Gonzaga is now perhaps the country’s leading college basketball powerhouse. Hoopfest, the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, takes over downtown every summer – when there isn’t a global pandemic – and brings in tens of thousands of visitors.
Basketball is an integral part of Spokane’s culture. And the city wants everybody to know it.
At its Monday meeting, Spokane City Council unanimously passed a resolution officially designating Spokane as Hooptown USA.
Matt Santangelo, executive director of the Spokane Hoopfest Association and a former Zags’ basketball player, brought the Hooptown USA idea to City Council.
“We want that to be part of our identity,” Santangelo said. “Basketball means a little bit more to us.”
In addition to the nickname designation, city street staff will install five to 10 Hooptown USA signs this summer at Spokane entry points. For instance, there could be a Hooptown USA sign beneath a Welcome to Spokane sign.
“If we’re going to say we’re Hooptown USA, we’ve got to do something with it,” Santangelo said. “We’ve got to build it.”
Santangelo said adding the signs will help solidify the nickname in the city’s consciousness. The Spokane Hoopfest Association is paying for the signs and the city is installing them.
The Hooptown USA moniker won’t compete with or overshadow Spokane’s Lilac City nickname, Santangelo said. The goal is simply to have the city lean into its growing basketball renown and brand itself as a hoops capital.
Santangelo said he’d like Spokane to become synonymous with basketball the same way Nashville, Tennessee, is synonymous with country music. He noted that in Nashville, travelers are “hit over the head with country music” the second they walk through the airport.
If people throughout the country start to associate Spokane with basketball it could have benefits for the city’s economy, Santangelo said.
According to Gonzaga University School of Business analysis, Hoopfest was responsible for shooting $48 million into the local economy in 2018. Basketball could be even more valuable to the city if more people associate Spokane with the sport, the analysis found.
Throughout much of the United States, Spokane isn’t thought of as a basketball mecca. Most people don’t even know where Gonzaga is.
Some might think of New York City as the country’s basketball hot spot, or Springfield, Massachusetts, the sport’s birthplace and home to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But Santangelo said Spokane’s basketball accolades are second to none.
“We would put our basketball history up against any of those,” he said. “They don’t have Gonzaga basketball. They don’t have Hoopfest.”
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